September 22, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
WHITNEY – Thursday 9:30 PM on NBC:  If Nothing Else Is On…
NBC has proclaimed WHITNEY their big comedy shot for Fall by giving it the plum Thursday night timeslot.  (Admittedly, that plum is a little dented these days, especially now that The Office is preparing to weather the loss of Steve Carell, but it’s the best they’ve got.)  It’s an odd fit–a show that’s moderately likable but also strident, with a tonal mix that’s part old-fashioned network charm show and part wannabe cable boundary-pusher. 

The title, the star, the writer, the lead producer–all of those are Whitney Cummings, the golden girl of this year’s Upfronts (she’s also co-creator of CBS’s Two Broke Girls), who was previously known for her stand-up and appearances on Chelsea Lately.  In the show, she’s in a longtime but unmarried couple with Alex (Chris D’Elia), and they each get the requisite 2 sitcom friends, a couple (Zoe Lister-Jones and Maulik Pancholy) and matching singles (Rhea Seehorn and Dan O’Brien).  The pilot storyline doesn’t try to break any new ground:  first the group attends a wedding together, then Whitney, concerned that after 5 years the passion may have left their relationship, tries to rekindle things with Alex and of course comic disaster ensues.  
Shows like Whitney aren’t about plot, but about the sharpness of the observations and the charisma of the cast–if they work, you have Friends and if they don’t, you have every show NBC ever tried to launch after Friends.  So far Whitney looks more like the latter.  Part of the problem is the overenthusiastic studio audience, which will make the show a jarring contrast with the low-key tone of Parks & Recreation and The Office, but worse, at this point the cast seems to be trading punchlines rather than melding together.  Cummings and D’Elia have some easygoing chemistry when the show calms down, but the friends are obnoxious without being funny.  Much of Cummings’ material for herself has the feel of  R-rated humor toned down for network TV.  Under the direction of Andy Ackerman, who’s been around the block many times, everyone seems to be pushing too hard.
It’s too soon to give up on Whitney; ensemble casts need time to get comfortable with each other, and a show with such a simple premise has to figure out what it’s really going to be about (a current example of a show on the upswing is ABC’s Happy Endings).  But in the single toughest timeslot on television, against Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, the follow-up to Vampire Diaries and the promising Person of Interest, time won’t be on the side of Cummings and her comedy partners.  As all those shows that followed Friends could tell them, sometimes that marquee slot is a mixed blessing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."